The queen of the 2002 Red Neck Rodeo is Gladys Crader Nobles, a woman who's lived in Wallowa County all of her life and still prefers to spend her time outside rather than in the house.
She admits that she didn't quite know what to think when first asked to become Red Neck royalty, but has had a lot of fun this summer representing the rodeo in parades at Summerfest, the Elgin Stampede, the Baker City rodeo and at Chief Joseph Days. "It's a real honor," she said, admitting she hasn't missed a Red Neck Rodeo in its four years history. She also never missed a Chief Joseph Days, and remembers walking up the moraine in 1946 on foot for the very first one.
"She's always helping the kids," said Evelyn Lovell about why Queen Gladys, 70, was chosen as this year's Red Neck royalty. "She's always buys at the fair livestock auction, she's always there for the kids. She's a hardworking lady and she deserves it."
"I was kind of a tomboy growing up," admitted Nobles, the middle of three daughters born to Jess and Inez Crader. "I always said I should have been my dad's boy."
Her first 12 years were spent upriver from Imnaha, and trips to town were very rare. She lived within five miles of both sets of grandparents on the Imnaha, the Morgans and the Craders, and said she usually avoided chances to go into Joseph or even Imnaha in one of their automobiles because she got carsick easily.
The Crader girls lived two and a half miles from the Park School, and thought nothing of walking back and forth between school and home, and then walking another three miles after sheep. "We used to walk everywhere," she said. Her sisters, Norma Barton of Joseph and Nadine Henry of La Grande, were involved in both the work and the fun.
Gladys did have her own horse, though, a big brown work horse called "Brownie," that her granddad Crader gave her to ride when she was still very young. She never did own a saddle horse until later after she was married, but remembers great times struggling to harness Brownie and riding, usually for fun behind a rock sled, used when picking and hauling rocks out of fields.
Later working on the Nobles ranch in the Leap area where she still lives, Gladys remembers moving tons of rocks.
"All my life I was a farmerette, not a housewife," Nobles said. "I loved every bit of ranching. I dragged my kids around everywhere, out to build fence or whatever. My kids didn't know what a baby-sitter was.
Among adventures she remembers from when she was a child was finding a porcupine and herding it home from school with a long stick, only to have it escape when she and her sisters were trying to herd it to school to show their teacher the next day.
"As far as I am concerned, I grew up in the best days," she said. "You didn't have to live so fast in those days to keep up. ... We had some good old times."
When she was 12 her parents, thinking ahead to high school days, moved in to Joseph. She finished high school in 1951 and worked for several years, as a fry cook and at the Joseph sawmill before marrying rancher Jim Nobles in 1955.
The couple raised four children and the ranch at Leap about 10 miles northwest of Enterprise: J.D. and Debbie Gilbert, who both live in Wallowa County; Tammie Sundin of Pendleton; and the youngest, Eddie, whom Gladys described as a "big, lovable teddy bear."
Tragedy hit the Nobles family incredibly hard when Eddie was shot and killed in a double murder in Joseph in 1997. Unable to cope with Eddie's death, Jim Nobles did not survive many more months.
"When ever I start to get too down, I can hear Eddie telling me, "Mom, life must go on,'" said Gladys Nobles philosophically. And about her current role as Red Neck Rodeo queen: "Eddie would be tickled, he'd be grinning ear to ear."
These days Queen Gladys keeps busy, usually outside, doing such things as cleaning up the barn yard and establishing a yard, which she said she never had time for before. She still plans to have another riding horse before she's through. "The kids think I
Though both of her daughters were rodeo royalty in the past, Debbie at Chief Joseph Days and Tammie at the Elgin Stampede, this is Gladys first time. She tried out unsuccessfully for a spot on the CJD court when she was young, so she is especially enjoying her turn in the spotlight.